Riders’ Dan Clark enjoyed working on Ben Heenan’s farm but ‘cannot wait to headbutt another human being’

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Farming is a way of life in the province of Saskatchewan — especially for a Regina boy like Dan Clark.

The 33-year-old spent the extended off-season working on a farm owned by former Roughrider and No. 1 overall CFL draft pick Ben Heenan. Clark’s strong relationship with his old teammate made for a smooth transition back to football once training camp was set to get underway.

“It was very easy. When your boss is an ex-football player and somebody that could still come off the tractor right now and do it at any moment, he kind of understands. He’s always on me, ‘You know, if you need time, just let me know, we can figure out hours and go from there,’ so that switch was perfect,” said Clark in a videoconference.

Clark tried not to focus on the discussions surrounding the XFL that dominated the headlines throughout the spring. He’s happy the talks have come to a close and hopes the future of the league is secure so young local talent can continue to shine.

“It was one of those ones where you just shut everything out and focus on what you’re going to be doing and that was providing for my family in the moment,” said Clark.

“You worry about the next generation coming up behind you. Without the CFL you won’t have the next stars like Logan Ferland or Mattland Riley. To see those guys not have that opportunity to shine on this football field, it would have been a detriment to football in Saskatchewan.”

Clark was named a CFL all-star for the first time in 2019 in his eighth full season as a member of the Riders. The guards on either side of him changed frequently over the course of the season as the team dealt with injuries, but he was a stalwart at centre, starting all eighteen regular season games and the West Final.

There was a brief skirmish in the trenches at practice on Monday as tempers boiled over along the offensive and defensive lines. The confrontation didn’t bother Clark, who is used to having flare-ups in training camp.

“It’s so fast, it’s in and out. Usually I black out and then it’s all good after that, but that’s the thing about having a team, we’re like a bunch of little kids out there. One little scuffle and the next thing you know you’re best friends walking out having a conversation laughing,” said Clark.

“It’s about tempo for the D-line and O-line. It’s always someone’s feelings get hurt, how fast or how hard someone’s going. As leaders, Micah (Johnson) and myself, it’s about trying to control our group. We understand it’s high emotions, it’s everybody fighting for a job.”

Clark has missed the physicality of football and can’t wait to tee-off on someone come the start of Saskatchewan’s regular season on August 6 against the B.C. Lions.

“I’m very excited. I cannot wait to headbutt another human being.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.